Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 37;   September 14, 2016: Behavioral Indicators of Political Risk

Behavioral Indicators of Political Risk

by

Avoiding dangerous political interactions is easier if you know what to look for. Among the indicators of possible trouble are the behaviors of the people around you.
A pitcher plant

A pitcher plant. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that lure their prey into the opening shown, using a variety of strategies. Depending upon the species, they might use attractive coloration, nectars, shapes, or scents. Once the prey enters the mouth of the pitcher, extrication is almost impossible. The pitchers are variously lined with sticky substances and sharp, inward pointing bristles that prevent prey escaping. At the bottom of the pitcher is a pool of liquid containing juices that digest the prey. Most pitchers prey on insects, but very large pitchers have been observed preying on small rodents.

Political predators, like pitcher plabts, use a variety of strategies to prey on unsuspecting colleagues and subordinates. Typically, they use enticements to ensnare their prey, holding them until they can extract from them whatever it is they seek.

Photo by kevin_smia courtesy pixabay.com.

In workplace politics, as in much of Life, it's easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble. In that spirit, last time we examined attributes of organizational cultures that indicate elevated political risk. But whether or not a group's culture tolerates willfully damaging political conflict, intentionally harming someone, directly or not, is a choice available to anyone.

That's why observations of personal behavior are useful for assessing political risk. Here are several behavior patterns worth noticing.

Repeated, covert behavioral norm violations
Most of us abide by behavioral norms — no cussing, courtesy to all, and the like. There are deviations, though, and penalties usually follow. Those who violate norms repeatedly and covertly have found ways to harm or offend others while evading penalties. To manage the risk of harm, you can try avoiding these people, which might work for a while. Better: leverage your organization's norm enforcement infrastructure by finding ways to expose the offenders.
Manipulation and deception
People who repeatedly manipulate or deceive others usually do so not for the benefit of their targets, but for their own personal advantage. Avoidance is a common defensive response. Another is explaining to the deceiver how hurtful his or her behavior is. Rarely is either strategy effective. Reconciling yourself to the person's dishonesty, while guarding against being tricked again, is probably the best course.
Substance abuse
People engaged in abuse of addictive substances aren't in control of their own behavior. Their need to meet the requirements of their addiction limits their ability to choose to avoid harming others. Indeed, the substance abuse can even expose them to the risk of control by their substance supply chain. Relying on people in such predicaments to behave respectfully toward others is risky.
Quarrelsomeness
Some behaviors can be as addictive as substances. One especially addictive behavior is quarreling. The thrill of prevailing in disputes can be so enticing that the quarrel itself becomes more important than the matter in dispute. Close collaborations with the quarrel-addicted are unlikely to come to good ends.
Gambling
Gambling is another well-established addictive behavior. We usually think of gambling as gaming, but we gamble in the workplace when we undertake high-risk projects or when we seek to dislodge powerful political foes. Although assuming reasonable risk is a necessity of modern work life, there are those who seek unreasonable When people are ensnared by addiction,
their need to meet the requirements
of their addiction limits their ability
to choose to avoid harming others
risk so they can experience the thrill of defying the odds. Collaborations and alliances with such people are unwise.
Rumormongering
Rumormongering is another addictive behavior. The thrill of telling someone something they haven't yet heard can be so rewarding that the rumormongerer yields to the temptation to embellish — essentially, to lie — because seeming to be "in the know" becomes more important than Truth. Telling such people anything at all can risk its incorporation into the next rumor, possibly damaging even to you.

This is just a sampler. Add your own observations to this list, and send them along. And be careful out there. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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See also Workplace Politics and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
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The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

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The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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